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Putnam: Dangers of leaving children alone in cars

July 30, 2017 at 4 a.m.


Now that we are into summer in Texas, children are spending more time outdoors, which increases the danger of children being left alone in, and around cars.

When we think of children being left alone in cars, our first thought is the danger of children dying in hot cars from heatstroke. In addition to heat risks, there are other safety concerns with unsupervised children around cars, including the risks of children getting run over, releasing the gear shift or engaging electric windows and becoming trapped inside vehicles or trunks.

According to the Safe Kids Worldwide, about 39 percent of deaths cause by cars backing over children occurred at home. Drivers often are family members or family friends of the child.

Children are more at risk for heatstroke because a child's body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult's. A heatstroke can occur at body temperatures higher than 104 degrees. Even mild outside temperatures can pose a threat, but with Texas summer temperatures climbing into the upper 90s each day, the danger becomes even greater.

The problem is that temperatures in parked vehicles rise quickly. In 10 minutes, the temperature inside of a vehicle can increase by almost 20 degrees, according to figures from San Francisco State University's Department of Geosciences.

To reduce deaths from heatstroke, Safe Kids USA has launched a campaign titled ACT, which stands for: Avoid heatstroke-related injury, Create reminders, and Take action. The campaign is designed to link together these simple heatstroke prevention steps.

So far this year, 18 children have died in hot cars nationwide, including seven in Texas. Although many parents may think that this will never happen to them, it is a tragedy that can and has happened to many families.

Parents should be extra vigilant to make sure that children are never left alone in or around parked vehicles. Follow these safety tips to be sure that children cannot be harmed in a vehicle.

  • Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.

  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away.

  • Carefully check all seats in the van or bus to make sure there are no children sleeping on the seats or hiding under seats.

  • Do not let children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.

  • Check with the family when a child does not show up for day care to be sure a parent has not forgotten a child in the vehicle.

  • Always lock vehicle doors and trunks — and keep keys out of children's reach.

  • If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk or storage area.

  • If a child too hot, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly, then call 911.

  • Walk all the way around your parked vehicle to check for children, pets or toys before getting in the car and starting the engine.

  • Make sure young children are accompanied by an adult when getting in and out of a car.

  • Identify and use safe play areas for children away from parked or moving vehicles.

  • Designate a safe spot for children to go when nearby vehicles are about to move.

  • Firmly hold the hand of each child when walking near moving vehicles and when in driveways, parking lots or sidewalks.

  • Teach children not to play in and around vehicles.

  • Lock vehicles at all times, even in the garage or driveway.

  • Never leave keys in the car.

  • Store keys out of children's reach.

  • Engage your emergency brake every time you park.

  • Check to see if your vehicle has a Brake Transmission Safety Interlock, which is a safety technology to prevent children from accidentally putting a vehicle into gear. Check your owner's manual. After Sept. 1, 2010, all vehicles with an automatic transmission with a park position must have BTSI.

  • Use drive-thru services when available.

  • Use your debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.

  • Lock the power windows so that children cannot play with and cannot get caught in them. Power windows can strangle a child or cut off a finger.

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